Louisiana Voucher Funding Unconstitutional

Last Updated: May 30, 2013

This article appeared in the May 2013 Rural Policy Matters.

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Governor Bobby Jindal’s school voucher program met a significant obstacle in May when the Louisiana Supreme Court struck down the state’s method of funding it. The Court also ruled that the method by which the law funding the program was introduced and enacted was unconstitutional.

A 6–1 majority found the funding mechanism unconstitutional because it diverts funds from the Minimum Foundation Program (MFP), the state’s formula for funding public elementary and secondary schools. The vouchers can be used at any non-public school and for other entities, including colleges, corporate training programs, and home schooling parents. (Editor’s note: See previous RSFN coverage here and here.)

In the fall, several groups, including the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, the Louisiana Education Association, the Louisiana School Board Association, and a number of local school boards brought the lawsuit against the Louisiana Department of Education and the state’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE). District Judge Timothy E. Kelley found the funding method unconstitutional; the state appealed that decision.

The law, Act 2 passed in 2012 and called the Louisiana Scholarship Program, counted all private school students in the local district’s enrollment then transferred state funding to the private entity. It also deducted from the district’s total state funding a portion equal to the local share of funding for each voucher student.

The state supreme court ruled only on the funding mechanism, not the merits of the voucher program, nor the original legislation authorizing it. Because the court found the diversion of MFP funding unconstitutional, it found no need to rule on the local funds issue specifically.

Governor Jindal says the state will fund the program from another portion of the state budget. Jindal, who is Chairman of the Republican Governors Association, has made the voucher program a key piece of his policy agenda.

The legislature must now rework the 2013–14 MFP formula passed in March and address the fact that much of the voucher money for the current school year has already been sent to non-public entities.

It is not yet clear how the legislature will handle these tasks. Funding in a state emergency fund might be applied to current vouchers, or money could be shifted from other state programs. There is some media speculation that the MFP will remove voucher students from the formula, reduce the overall education allocation by that amount, and shift those monies into another non-education fund. However, the voucher bill was controversial and it is unclear how willing the legislature will be to take it on again.

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Read more from the May 2013 Rural Policy Matters.